Cutting through the bullshit.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

OK, what about ‘the veil’?

OK, what about ‘the veil’?

British poodle, Tory Blain and prominent ‘Labour’ ex foreign minister, Jack Straw, have made headlines lately with their remarks about veiled women. Straw claims the veil is a ‘visible statement of separation and difference’. Well, duh. Straw’s views on the kilt were, curiously, unreported.

Yesterday Al Jazeera reported a West Yorkshire teacher who lost her discrimination case when she was suspended for refusing to remove her veil. The report doesn’t mention what she was teaching. As I point out later, in my view, it makes a difference, although not to whether it is discrimination or not.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there were schools in England, even within the Kirklees council’s jurisdiction, including Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury itself, that actually require girls and boys, even male and female teachers, to dress visibly differently. Well might anyone wonder why they are promoting such separation and difference.

If the objective is to promote secularism, it is entirely counterproductive to exclude veiled women, or anyone practicing what they believe their religion requires of them, from secular institutions, as they did in France last year. Even if this were not intuitively obvious, Turkey has banned the veil for 80 years and look where it’s got them. Aishah Azmi’s case in Dewsbury, though, is irrelevant to this issue – after all, what would a Church of England school have to do with promoting secularism?

According to the veiled women I have asked about it, their motivation for ‘dressing modestly’ is to avoid arousing male lust. This is the case whether or not they cover their hair, or their faces. They all think they are dressing modestly. It hardly seems to make any sense at all, however, given the avowed purpose, to cover everything else but to leave their sexy eyes exposed. But then, if religious beliefs made any sense, they wouldn’t be religious beliefs, now would they? Ironically, those wearing a full burqa actually accomplish what they claim to set out to do.

There may in fact be a correlation between the amount of skin a society considers it acceptable for women to expose and some measure of women’s rights or equality. But even if such a correlation exists, it is not evidence of a cause and effect relation, much less which is the cause and which the effect. It is a big mistake to think that a miniskirt is either a sign of liberation or a strategy to achieve it.

If a veiled woman wants to work as a dentist, a bricklayer, an engineer, a chef, or what have you, this is entirely unobjectionable. I do have a concern, however, about a language teacher who will not allow students to observe what they do with their vocal apparatus. Don’t laugh. I had a veiled woman in one of my classes studying to be an English teacher.

Addendum: In a big surprise, today's NYT had an op-ed by one Paul Cruickshank, arguing that criticizing veiled women was counterproductive!

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